I’m back from my trip to Vancouver. Including travel days, I was on vacation for 11 days, making this the longest trip I’ve taken in ages. It was wonderful to spend so much time with my family and to meet up with so many of my friends — among them the wonderful Liz of Something More, who is every bit as smart and witty and energetic in person as she is online. A special treat was getting to know my newest nephew, who made it to almost three before coming face to face with his Aunt Rohan. There was lots of good food and drink and general conviviality; the weather was spectacular, and so, as always, was the scenery. A small sample will make you wonder why anyone bothers vacationing (or, for that matter, living) anywhere else:
But enough about all that! This is a book blog, so of course what you want to know about is whether I had any bookish adventures along with all that socializing and sightseeing. Well, of course I did. Here’s the stack of books I either read, bought, or borrowed on my trip:
The Woman Upstairs and Jane and Prudence were the books I brought along to read on the plane. Barbara Pym was excellent company from Halifax to Toronto: I appreciated her much more after reading Harrison Solow’s Felicity & Barbara Pym, so I was happy to find when I arrived in Vancouver that my mother had helpfully picked Excellent Women and A Glass of Blessings from her collection and put them out for me. As you can see from the picture, I have “borrowed” them to read at my leisure! (I promise, I will give them back to her … next time she visits me here. See how cleverly I’m adding in incentives for her to come all this way?) The Magnificent Spinster is hers as well: one of the fun things about visiting my parents is exploring their incredibly well-stocked and various shelves, from the rows of vintage Penguin Classics in the living room to the mysteries shelved two deep in the study to my mother’s Bloomsbury nook:
From Toronto to Vancouver I made good progress on The Woman Upstairs, which I had suggested for my F2F book club for August; I finished it up a day or two after I got there. I was pretty disappointed in it: it seemed heavy-handed and straining towards significance. Nora’s anger was particularly uninteresting to me, largely because it was so insistent. Though the overt allusion is to Jane Eyre, I found myself thinking more about Villette as I read it. Lucy Snowe is a much more layered and complex character — or perhaps I should say characterization: Brontë gives us mysteries, deception, and self-deception where I felt that Messud gives us mostly clichés and plot twists. And speaking of twists, the one at the end is painfully predictable, isn’t it? I ended up feeling that I had once again made the mistake of following the hype. But perhaps as I think it over more, and after we’ve discussed it in our group, I’ll realize how this preliminary reaction is inadequate.
Also in the pile is Arabella, which I bought myself as a treat at the big Chapters downtown. I ended up reading most of it on the flights home: it was sweet and cheerful and not too demanding, which is just about right for a stressful flying day. (Overall I was pleased with how well I handled the flying on this trip — there was a minimum of armrest clutching, for one thing, and my “self-talk” strategies were more effective than usual, even during turbulence. Still, even at its best it’s a crowded, uncomfortable, and disconcerting experience, isn’t it?)
My other purchases were from Hager Books, one of the very few independent stores left in Vancouver. From their carefully curated selection, I chose Gift from the Sea, which I was inspired to buy because of Litlove’s wonderful essay on Anne Morrow Lindbergh in the April issue of Open Letters Monthly. I had planned to read it on the plane home but didn’t feel well enough to concentrate on it, so now I have it to look forward too. And I chose Robert Hellenga’s The Sixteen Pleasures for the contrasting reason that I’d never heard of it (or him) before and was intrigued that Hager had several of his titles in stock, as if he’s a readerly favorite. Besides that, of course, I also thought it looked interesting! Has anyone read any of Hellenga’s novels? If you hated them, probably best not to tell me that I may have wasted my Hager’s opportunity on the wrong thing!
In the Woods is there because I ordered a book for a gift to be sent to Vancouver ahead of my arrival, and I wanted something to add it so I’d get free shipping! I chose it because Tana French is a name that keeps coming up when I ask for mystery recommendations. I’d been avoiding it because it begins with bad things happening to young children, but I need to refresh my mystery reading. (Pretty soon, in fact, I have to order books for another round of the ‘Women & Detective Fiction’ seminar, so you’ll be seeing more questions about that here later.)
The book I liked best of the ones I read on my trip is actually not shown here because I finished it and decided I really shouldn’t kidnap yet another of my mother’s books. It was Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, and it is by far my favorite of the novels by Taylor that I’ve read. It’s got the same clear-eyed, almost ruthless perspective on people’s foibles and self-deceptions but is also both funny and poignant. It was on the shelf next to Mollie Panter-Downes’s One Fine Day, which I did make off with. Really, if I lived in Vancouver, I would hardly need bookstores or libraries at all!
And now, back to my regular life. . I’m pleased with how much I got done on different projects before I left, including the Middlemarch for Book Clubs site, the reviews for Open Letters, and the draft of the Dick Francis essay (now in the editor’s hands); it’s time to think about how I want to use the rest of the time I have before teaching once again becomes the #1 priority. First, though, I have to get over my jet lag …
By “energetic” I am sure you mean “can’t stop interrupting others when involved in a great conversation.” But I felt the same about our afternoon–meeting you was a highlight of the summer!
What lovely photos…I knew there was a reason I wanted to move to Vancouver (still do actually).
And bookstore tourism is one of the loveliest things, isn’t it?
You’ve reminded me that I need to read something by E. Taylor.
So glad you had such a nice trip! I love that your mom has a Bloomsbury nook!
Tana French! I want a new book from her every week! I’m in vacation in Canada, too, but of course you get to live there all the time, lucky thing…
Dorian, your recommendation of Tana French was definitely influential! I’m reading In the Woods now and you’re right, it’s very good. There’s something bothering me about the narrator’s voice, though — but I can’t put my finger on it. Does it sound silly to say that he sounds more American than Irish? It’s something like that.
I have often regretted that I couldn’t land a job in BC, but I’ve never regretted that I chose a job in Canada over the one I was offered in the US (in North Carolina) — I feel sure I would have been even less at home there. And that’s not even taking into account the absurdly quantitative requirements they outlined for tenure.
I thought Tana French did a very good job of narrating from a man’s perspective, with one exception: I think it unlikely that a straight man would pay so much attention to other people’s clothes.
Hmm… I’m pretty straight and I always pay attention to other people’s clothes…
I agree, Rohan, about that voice. But I think it makes more sense by the end. (Spoilers, etc.) I also think she perfected narrative voice in her subsequent books. (I think she’s up in Ishiguro territory when it comes to voice.)
I clicked over from Twitter to read what you had to say about Pym and was excited to see The Magificent Spinster. I am a huge fan of May Sarton and this is one of my favorites. And it is perfect summer reading given that chunks of the book take place on an island in Maine.
Thomas: So far I have liked everything I’ve read by Sarton — which isn’t much, but I’m eager to make it more. In addition to The Magnificent Spinster (and really, who could resist that title?), I happened across another volume of her memoirs in the library discard sale recently, so I’ve got that stashed away now too. I’m particularly interested in reading Journal of a Solitude, now that I’ve read (and loved) Plant Dreaming Deep.